09 Feb 2023

Breaking Down To-Do’s into Manageable Chunks

According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders.” A common cause of anxiety is the feeling of not being in control. One way to gain more control is to have a life that is predictable and manageable.” American Psychiatric Association
I am a firm believer in calendars and to-do lists. If it isn’t on the calendar, it won’t happen. If it isn’t written down, it may be forgotten. Checking things off as done brings calmness. Looking at a list and being overwhelmed with its length or the time individual items might take brings stress. Maybe some of you can relate. We all have to manage our lives, our family’s lives, and our jobs, leaving time for leisure. It sometimes feels like a jigsaw puzzle or Tetris to make it all fit together.
Our children’s jigsaw puzzles may overwhelm them as well. One our most popular requests is for an academic coach to help students work out an organizational plan for their schoolwork and their lives.
I am going to discuss one technique that is used by special education teachers everywhere. It is called chunking, and can apply to words, assignments, studying, using a calendar, and writing to-do lists.
Chunking Words
We do not sound out big words letter by letter, but in chunks. For example, encyclopedia is broken down into six syllables. Many children guess unknown words based on their context in a sentence, which is a good technique, but it sometimes fails. Chunking is generally more accurate.
Chunking Assignments
Sometimes teachers assign big projects that seem overwhelming. However, they usually allow a reasonable amount of time to complete them. Some students become stressed and react by avoiding the project until it is almost due. This rarely works. The best approach is to look at the assignment the first day and break it down into steps. Many students need the help of a teacher, tutor, or parent to do this.
Chunking Studying
Tests are usually announced in advance as well. As soon as you know about a test, you can plan on how to prepare for it over time. One day, create a study guide. Another day, have someone test you. Every day, make sure you are paying attention in class and asking questions if you don’t understand something.
Using a Calendar
While I can’t recommend one calendar technique that works for all, the one most likely to fail is keeping everything in your head. You are bound to forget something, and the effort expended on remembering tasks and homework can be used instead to learn new material and review old material. Therefore, it is crucial to write everything down in a planner or notebook or use an online calendar such as Google. On this calendar, students should input every extra-curricular activity, every due date, and every quiz or test date. The next step is to break down studying for a test into several days rather than one and break down long term assignments into incremental steps. A specific time frame should be reserved for each task and study period. For me, when my list looks like too much to complete in a day, I take items that can wait and move them to a new day. If you are using a physical planner, it is best to use pencil to allow for changes.
Using a To-Do List
Some tasks are long term and others are short term. Anything due the next day should be highlighted. When the student feels motivated, they should get as much done as possible. If the student is having a bad day, they should move non-urgent tasks to another day.
When there is too Much
Everyone has a different capacity and speed of getting things done. Some people need more downtime or sleep than others. To have an optimum life, self-care is important, including eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, having some time with friends, and pursuing a hobby. If there is too much on your plate, you need to cut back. This may mean an extra-curricular activity. It may mean meeting with a teacher to discuss ways to reduce homework time. It may mean getting an academic coach to help make the jigsaw puzzle work. Academic Coaching (tutoringforsuccess.us)
Throughout our lives, we can use these techniques to keep our schedules manageable and feel a sense of control. Since we are human, we must be flexible. Life is full of surprises.
By Cheryl Gedzelman, President, Tutoring For Success

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